Monday, March 30, 2015

Thanks, Atticus

Lately Atticus has been a little impatient with my style of parenting, whatever that may be.  Is there an opposite to helicopter parenting?  Hang on, let's ask google... HAHAHA!  According to the wise old internet, "No Rescue Parenting" resides on the pole opposite Helicopter Parenting, which sounds just about right, as I can't tell you how many times our children have tearfully called out to me for help because they were stuck in a tree and my response has been, "You got yourself up there, you can get yourself down."  If they're pretty far up there or really panicking I will deign to coach them from the ground.  The emotional scarring from all this appears to be nominal as they still seize any chance to monkey up a tree.

Where was I?  Right.  Atticus.

A few weeks ago when enough of the snow had melted to get the bikes back out, Atticus jumped on his and raced off without a wobble in sight.  Bike riding has always come naturally to him.

Adelaide hovered around her bike, she walked it up and down the sidewalk, she did everything but ride it.  When she had finally mustered the courage to mount her trusty steed, she complained about how it was too big and how she was going to fall and how she missed her old, little bike.  And how dare I expect her to ride a big bike when she had only just learned to ride without training wheels late last summer?

I told her to take it up with her dad; she didn't get her height and gangly limbs that necessitated a bigger bike from me.

For a half hour she loitered in front of the house, trying to get me to run alongside her on her bike.  I gave her a firm "NO," as we've both gotten hurt that way in the past.  Atticus, who is evidently softer-hearted than I am, was swayed by her tears, as he incredulously told me that, "Mom, Adelaide needs help!"  I told him that SHE'S FINE, he glared at me and took matters into his own hands.

He stayed with her like this for half a block.

After some coaching from her little brother, Adelaide gained the confidence to ride on her own on the big bike.  It took her several more days to learn to trust the hand brakes; at first she said they were just too difficult for her hands to work and instead steered for a patch of grass to tip sideways onto every time she wanted to stop.  She did not jump off, or catch herself with her feet, she stayed in bike-riding stance, feet on the pedals, hands on the handlebars, and just... just fell all the way to the side.  On purpose.  I swear she looked exactly like those fainting goats, and I never failed to collapse into laughter every time she did it, which did not help my image of Mean Mother.

Atticus has since expanded his purview as back-up Parent from bike riding to Advice Giving.  Yesterday he and Caedmon decided to color.  Atticus chose an Easter-themed coloring sheet to decorate, which Caedmon looked at with derision and declared, "That is a pretty coloring page, and I don't color pretty things; I only color cool things."

Atticus took this opportunity to educate his younger brother:  "Cade, I have lots of girlfriends.  When you have lots of girlfriends, sometimes you have to color pretty things for them.  You don't just get to color cool things anymore."  Caedmon took this as the sage advice that it was, and they continued coloring in harmony, pretty and cool things alike.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Three Books

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

Roz Chast is a celebrated cartoonist and illustrator, and in this, her first memoir, she tells the not always pleasant story of her aging parents' declining health as death approached and the uncomfortable and often heartbreaking role reversal that comes with the territory of the child- Ms. Chast- taking care of her parents as their health began to fail, all the way through to their eventual deaths.  I would be very curious to hear the opinion of someone who has been through this process themselves; I have not, and although I have watched others as they attempted to swim these difficult waters, I have a feeling being a spectator to the process and actually going through it are as different as watching someone cut themselves with a rusty blade and saying, "Boy, I bet that hurts," and being the one screaming and bleeding.  From my perch, the book was heart wrenching and darkly funny and very, very frank.

Paperboy by Vince Vawter

Set in Memphis in 1959, Paperboy tells the story of a boy covering his friend's paper route for the summer.  Yes, the setting is interesting, as he questions the racism present in his life, but more than anything it's the fact that this boy has a rather severe stutter that is the driving force of the book.  His internal monologue by necessity vastly different from the words he is able to communicate to the outside world, it's an incredibly interesting and thought-provoking take on relationships and childhood and words.  There's a note from the author at the end, himself a lifelong stutterer, that lends a note of authenticity and hope to the tale.  Plus, as a short YA book, you have no excuse not to read this one, as you'll zip through it in no time.

The Prodigal God:  Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Timothy Keller

There are some stories that, if you've spent any time in a church, you just know.  The parable of the Prodigal Son, as many Bibles label it, is one of them.  You've read it in the gospels.  You've heard sermons on it.  In Sunday school you colored a picture of a raggedy-looking guy being welcomed home by his open-armed father.  You know this story, and you know you know it, so why the heck read a whole book about it?
Now, nobody panic, I'm not about to go down some twisty, Da Vinci Code, Illuminati conspiracy trail.  I promise I'm not.  Dr. Keller is not Dan Brown (puh-raise JESUS).  What Keller does in this book is break down the parable:  The audience to whom Jesus was preaching and what kind of message God was trying to get through to them; the culture of the day and what each piece of the parable means in light of that culture; and that, um, hello?  There are two sons in this story, each equally important, each with something to teach us, and how each one of us, with our own backgrounds and opinions and uniquely-shaped chips on our shoulders often behave like an Elder Brother or a Younger, and why we need to just stop it and clean up our act, already.  Except nicer, and way more eloquently.  You should seriously read this, especially if you've read and heard the story of the prodigal son so many times you give yourself special permission to mentally check out when your pastor brings it up.  (Not that I have ever done that.  Ahem.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Just One Book Today

Because apparently I had a lot to say about it.  I'm hoping to get more books up tomorrow that I can persuade/coerce you into reading.

The Martian by Andy Weir

Now, here's the thing:  I like mysteries, I like sci fi, I like fantasy, I like the less pretentious offerings to be found in literary fiction.  I like plenty of nonfiction.  What I don't like?  Survival stories.  Please do not recommend books set on deserted islands, or on ridiculously tall, remote, snowy mountainsides where the entire purpose of the story is for the main character to survive.  I do not like them.  I do not like them, Sam I Am.
This is without question a story of survival, but friends, it was excellent.  An astronaut is on a mission to Mars, something goes wrong (as it is wont to do in space), his crew leaves Mars to return home, grief-stricken over the death of their crewmate and the fact that they had to leave his body behind.
Except he's not dead.  He's now marooned on Mars, nobody knows he's alive, and he has very few life-sustaining tools.
I am aware that this sounds like an utterly hopeless story; it is anything but.  Oh, yes, your emotions will be sent through the wringer, but the book never feels slow or depressing or bereft of hope.  Between the three settings (Astronaut Mark on Mars, the remaining crew still in space in their spaceship, and the folks at NASA down on earth), the pace never lags, and there are delightful characters to spare, although none more so than Mark, who you will root for until it hurts.  Did I mention the humor?  Because somehow this guy fighting for his life is often hilarious.  No idea how Mr. Weir pulled that one off.
A couple of warnings:  First, Cursing.  There's a lot of it, and while I tend to get impatient with superfluous cuss words in books (Really?  Aaaaaalllll the words in the English language and those five are the only ones you can think of over and over, authors?), I tended to err on the side of forgiveness here, because, well, this guy is STRANDED ON MARS.  He's just the tiniest bit stressed, and scared, and deserves some slack.  Second, Science.  There's a lot of it, too.  I knew just enough to be able to more or less follow along, thinking about how quickly I would die on Mars because, whoa, that's a lot of science.  It got to the point where I thought, "You know, I'm pretty much accepting everything this author is putting down here, science-wise, because it all sounds relatively familiar and plausible, but I wonder what a real scientist or astronaut would think?"  Then I flipped to the back cover of the book, Home of the Blurbs, and behold!  A blurb from the COMMANDER OF THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.  He liked it, too!  It validated my working opinion of the book and made me feel halfway to intelligent, but only halfway, because then I read the author's description, who was apparently something of a wunderkind:  "...first hired as a programmer for a national laboratory at age fifteen... devoted hobbyist of subjects like relativistic physics..." etc, etc, blah blah blah.  Just your average bio.

And not to put any pressure on you, but a quick search just showed me they might be making a movie out of this book.  Please hurry and read it before One: Hollywood adds naked chicks and subtracts intelligence but still has the temerity to use the same title, and Two: They start publishing the book with stills from the movie on the cover.  Such an offense should have been covered under the Geneva Conventions because it is torture for me to see this in bookstores with my poor unsuspecting eyes.

Monday, March 23, 2015

A Hipster, Daughter, and Husband List

  • Our nearby big town of Ames was listed as the #2 city for hipsters last week by CBS news.  I already knew this, as our church is chock-full of them.  This doesn't bother me in the least because I can think of very few other groups as a whole who are easier to make fun of, a practice that has brought me... well, maybe not hours, but certainly minutes of entertainment.  Do a Kenickie-inspired run through your gelled hair with your imaginary comb, throw your imaginary scarf over your shoulder, strum your imaginary banjo with a pensive look on your face, and you're there, friend.  I do this all in a spirit of Christian loving-kindness, of course. 

  • I talked to my mom yesterday and thankfully she is running with this whole Flat Adelaide thing.  Flat A has been to see a totem pole and attended a funeral and Mom was talking about making her poor On the Job Training student construct tiny defibrillator paddles so they could resurrect Crashing Flat Adelaide when she goes to work with my mom this week.  This is all good news because three-dimensional Adelaide and I spent some of spring break brainstorming for her King Tut costume, during which we discovered a few creative differences in opinion, namely that I think her Egyptian headdress should be constructed from scrap fabric, whereas Adelaide thinks it should be made from paper and is likewise wrong.  The yellow satin I found does seem to be slowly swaying her to my side, however, apparently because her only real problem with my scrap fabric was that "I thought you were going to force that horrendous egg-yolk-puke-colored felt down my throat, when everyone knows King Tut did not wear yellow, he wore gold."  Never one to pass up a chance to make as many of our children unhappy as possible, I also requisitioned Atticus's toy snake for her costume, to be returned to him after this fiasco of a presentation is over.  I believe the only reason he did not throw a fit over this is because he knows there is a good chance I will use this snake to strangle our daughter if she says "Mom, don't you know anything about the ancient Egyptians?" just one more time. 

  • Derek was on the radio this morning, being interviewed about his library documentary because he just won a bunch of fancy awards for his work because he's amazing.  I asked him around thirty questions about his appearance on this radio show before it occurred, and he was able to answer right around two of them, brushing off the rest with appalling nonchalance.  He reminded me about the whole thing last night before bed just so that I'd remember that I needed to get the two A's to the bus stop today, and that was it.  This illustrates a fundamental difference between Derek and me:  If it were me going on a radio show for any reason, any reason at all, I would have freaked. the heck. out.  It would have been the de facto topic of conversation in our house for days, whether anyone wanted to hear about it or not.  I would have written posts on here about it.  I would have texted at least four friends and told them to pray for me lest I die immediately.  I would have paced around the house, flapping my hands.  Derek?  "Hey, I've been asked to be on this radio show.  They want to interview me about the library doc."  "OH MY GOSH WHEN?"  "Monday morning, at 7:15.  You'll need to take the kids to the bus stop."  "OH WOW THAT'S SO EXCITING!"  *crickets*
I'm pretty sure this is why Derek kept showing me all these t-shirts when that whole "Keep Calm and..." thing was trending.

From Etsy

From here

Both of the previous slogans could represent my entire psychological outlook with astounding accuracy.

Friday, March 20, 2015


Our progeny have spent the past couple days living it up at their grandparents' house.  This means I got to run a bunch of miles, including a long run on the Heart of Iowa trail yesterday, which is pretty at any time, but yesterday they were burning the fields that snug up against the trail for about one of those miles. Thankfully the wind was blowing the smoke away from me, so I got to enjoy the merry, crackling fire and new charred earth as I ran.  

This sign is one of my favorites, as it means that, at least on the way back, I'm just under two miles from home.

Derek's in the middle of a super busy work week, including meetings in the evenings, so he hasn't really gotten quite the mini-vacation I have, but I did accompany him into work for a few hours last night and the evening before.  This prompted me to say things like, "Your job is seriously thankless sometimes," and "Ugh, you've been doing this all week?"  My words probably weren't exactly heartening, but maybe I'm a little more understanding than before.  I also managed to screw up the one job he gave me:  Placing microphones all around a table and plugging them into their corresponding pluggy-hole-things in this giant piece of expensive equipment.  After I had tangled all the cords and plugged everything into the incorrect slots, he said something along the lines of, "Why don't you go do book things?" but in a nice voice, and because we were at the library without children and he knows me.

We did manage to squeeze in one date after work Thursday night, when we went to the big newer grocery store in another even bigger nearby town, where we walked around with bug eyes at all the fanciness.  Friends, we've been Aldi shoppers for a solid decade now, so features like lights that only come in the freezers when you walk by, then flicker back off after a minute of no activity, aisle after aisle of gleaming bins of bulk candy, bulk granola, bulk coffee, etc, etc, and an in-house restaurant with real live waiters was a bit overwhelming for us.  Derek got a mixture of bulk chocolates, and I got $2-worth of bulk organic coffee.  Naturally I bypassed all the snooty, high class-sounding coffees and got Jamaican Me Crazy, which smells amazing when you stick your face right in the bag and inhale, as I have done every time I've walked past it on my kitchen counter.  Apparently "high quality Arabica beans... with a perfect blend of vanilla, caramel, and Mexican liqueur" will do that.  

I'm a little ashamed to admit I can't tell much of a different in taste from my ordinary coffee beans, although I'll be the first to tell you I have anything but a sophisticated palate.  Our house smells fantastic when I brew these puppies, though.  Not actual puppies, you understand, but the fancy beans.  Torturing metaphors:  Another hobby of mine.

And those were our two crazy kid-free days.  We're a wild couple, Derek and I.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Behold, The Atticus

Yesterday after church, Atticus and I ventured out on a Mommy-Son date.  This had been much anticipated by our middle child all last week, partly because "I'll get to talk to you all the time without anyone interrupting me all the time," and partly because our planned activity was going out to eat ice cream, because we have our priorities straight.

I guess it was technically frozen yogurt, not ice cream.  I'm pretty sure this earns us the self-righteous label of "health nuts," especially if you ignore the gummy worms, gummy bears, and Reese's Pieces on Atticus's raspberry, salted caramel, and cinnamon roll flavors of frozen yogurt.  (RELAX, actual health nuts:  I only let him get a small amount of each, because I had to take this kid home.)  I got cheesecake flavored frozen yogurt with crushed Heath bar on top.  It was delicious.  

In addition to health food consumption, there was plenty of silliness, because Atticus was there.  I don't remember what he was saying here; I just recall laughing a lot and making a bit of a spectacle of ourselves at Orange Leaf.  I regret nothing.  

And yes, those are my feet kicked up on a chair.  If purple patent leather loafers are wrong, I don't want to be right.  Also, Atticus's hair is styled that way somewhat on purpose- he asked for a fauxhawk for church, and by 1 pm, this was the state to which it had deteriorated.  I still think he's cute as a button.

Click to embiggen, because it's Monday and you're worth it.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Spring(ish) List

  • You know it's spring when I force you to look at my teeny baby tulip sprouts:

Oliver Twist tulip shoots

I do this to you every year.  I'm so sorry.  (But not sorry enough to stop, muahahaha!)

Another thing I do year after year is tell you all about these mystery tulip shoots that I just don't remember planting.  I mean, I know I planted a load of bulbs last fall, but I can never remember quite where.  This year I also have vague memories of planting crocus bulbs, but darned if I can remember which bed they're in.  Probably one of those still half-buried in snow.  I may have also planted hyacinths?  Or not?  

I'm starting a Gardening Journal this year, complete with a map of our yard.  And this time I mean it!  (Did I or did I not type that exact sentence one year ago?  And possibly the year before that?)

Anyway, as you can no doubt see in that second photo up there, many of the tulip shoots are looking a little yellow and sickly, having been buried in leaves and snow, but three days of sunshine later they're looking much healthier.  I also bought a gallon of Liquid Fence this morning, in the hopes of staving off any Demon Rabbit rants that also mark spring on this blog.

  • I'm still a little obsessed with taking pictures of our kids while asleep.  I took this one of Caedmon ten minutes ago.

I took this one of Caedmon four years ago.

Gaaaaah THE FEELS!

  • In addition to Liquid Fence, I bought a whole bunch of seeds this morning, which made me feel absolutely suffused with happiness.  That is the Glory of Seeds.  There's even a Peter Cetera song about it.  Trust me on this one; he's really singing about gardening, because Seeds = Love.  In addition to all these new seeds, I still have a bunch of packets of old ones, because it's against my religion to throw out old seeds (I need Common Household Mom to write me a few verses on this topic from a suspiciously authentic-sounding book of the Bible, because she is brilliant at this.)  Fear not, though, friends!  This post on How to Test [Old] Vegetable and Annual Seeds was delivered straight to my inbox (FROM JESUS... by way of Mr. Jacobs) today, so those seeds will no longer languish in my seed drawer in the laundry room.  

The end.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Flat Stanley, King Tut, and my Mother

Yesterday, for approximately the 500th time, Adelaide did this adorable thing where she says, "Oh, I almost forgot!" then went hunting through different backpack pockets and coat and jacket pockets until she finally unearthed a crumpled piece of paper.  Last week the paper was her latest standardized test results that she had previously thought lost until she remembered that "Oh, yeah!  I forgot I put it in the toe of my shoe so that I wouldn't lose it!"  And sure enough, there it was:  Folded into the smallest possible size and stuffed into the toe of a shoe in her backpack.  Because... folders are for losers?  She's the Anti-Franklin Covey?  Please do not ask me to explain this, because I can't, despite the fact that she gets this penchant for, ahem, non-traditional organizational methods from yours truly.  You should see the top of my dresser.  It causes deep despair in the heart of my husband.

Last night's unearthed document was a letter from Adelaide's teachers to parents.  In it, there was a request for the name and address of whichever family member you most want to exact revenge upon, because the person you volunteer was about to get a homework assignment from some random teacher in Iowa.  (Note:  Not the exact wording used in the letter.  I'm translating its message into the Language of Truth.)

Had I seen this paper anywhere close to the time it was first sent home, I would have been able to ask various family members if they pretty pretty please wouldn't mind receiving a "flat child" (don't ask) in the mail from our daughter, then carting this thing around different places in their area, taking pictures with it, and sending the pictures and a letter describing the "flat child's" vacation back to us.  (See?  HOMEWORK.)  Because I only saw this last night and the name and address of an out-of-state family member was due TODAY, I wasn't able to call around and grovel and beg; instead I did what you do when you don't know what to do:  I scribbled down my mom's name and address.

I probably should have felt a little more guilty about this, but instead laughed and burbled with relief:  I didn't have to do anything, wheeeee!  Please keep in mind it is March which means I am SO DONE with school projects and forcing myself to care about our children's education, something I will have to hide during this week's Parent Teacher Conferences.  Also remember Adelaide came home two days ago and announced she had to pick a pre-1950 historical figure to research and create a costume for, and her choice, from which she would not be moved, was Tutankhamun.  My grand plans for her metamorphosis into King Tut so far involve copious amounts of black eyeliner and that is all, because they did not cover ancient Egyptian royalty in either the Psychology or in the Spanish I studied in college.  Could I interest her in Carl Jung?  Perhaps Quetzalcoatl?

Step One:  Spray paint her face gold.  Step Two:  Pierce and insert guages into her ears.  Step Three:  This is an impossible costume.

I soothed my twinging conscience over volunteering my mother for this project by telling myself that it's good for my mom to have periodic reminders as to why this stage in her life- that of kids out of the house, grandkids coming for visits- is so wonderful; not that she seems to need reminding- she frequently tells my sisters and me that this time in her life is SO GREAT, grandchildren are so much easier than actual children!  I would feel resentful of this, but you see, I was there for my childhood and adolescence, and I think Kelli and Steph would agree that Mom has earned these years.  (Hey, Kelli, remember that time we went down to the old highway and I taught you how to play "Chicken" with passing cars and, to break up the tedium of risking our lives in front of motorized vehicles, I coaxed you into tight-fitting drainage tunnels?  Remember how a neighbor ratted on us and told Mom, whose face turned a color I can only describe as "puce"?  Good times.)

Really, though, Adelaide and her class are lucky- God only knows what kind of photos my mom will send back!  They could be of local landmarks, like... um... the statue of a sad angel outside of mom's school?  Or they could just as likely be of whatever injuries have come into her office that day; Mom seems to forget that not everyone appreciates a good infected open sore as much as she does.  It's like Russian Roulette:  The Pus Edition.  You are welcome, Iowa schools.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Iowans in the Spring

This weekend it's supposed to be in the 40's.  Do you what that means?  ABOVE FORTY DEGREES!  Last Saturday I told Derek I had to go for a run because "it's just so warm out!"

The high last weekend was 20 degrees.

I've lived in Iowa long enough now to know that the first warm weekend- this weekend- (40 DEGREES!) draws all the Iowans out of their homes and into the outdoor warmth.  There will be very few coats to be seen, and these poor creatures stumbling around in the sunlight will be a little worse for wear.  Think of the caterpillar wrapping itself tightly and cozily in its chrysalis, only to reveal itself some time later as a beautiful butterfly, then picture the reverse.  That is spring in Iowa. In September a reasonably fit people, with sun-kissed skin and a cheerful demeanor begin chirruping about the glories of fall, then shut themselves into their houses because humans aren't meant to survive days where -8 is the high temp (I'M LOOKING AT YOU, JANUARY).

This weekend those same people will hesitantly emerge, pale and confused by the burning orb hanging in the sky ('SUN'?  WHAT IS THIS 'SUN' OF WHICH YOU SPEAK?), with scaly dry patches covering their skin and the near-hysterical good mood that marks the end of a season's worth of struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder.  The trails and sidewalks will be pulsing with the good people of Iowa, gulping fresh air and greeting neighbors they haven't seen in months with slightly manic good cheer mixed with a heavy dash of bewilderment.

"What did you say?  'Bike'?  What is 'ride a bike'?  Do you mean 'Netflix'?"

We will proceed to subsist on the memories of this week or so of good weather, because remember what May looks like here?

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Smell of Love

I remember when the sixth Harry Potter book came out and I first read about Amortentia.

Actually, what I mostly remember from that book's release is getting home from work at 2 am after my bookstore's giant Harry Potter party.  Let me tell you what, nobody knows how to have fun like a couple hundred people so obsessive about Harry Potter they're willing to hang around a bookstore for hours just to buy their books at midnight, unless it's the people who work at the bookstore and spend weeks decorating the store, planning their costumes, and staying up for several more hours after getting home at 2 am just to get a head start on The Half-Blood Prince.

Anyway.  Amortentia.  A love potion of sorts to you muggles.  It wasn't so much the "love" part that intrigued me, but the potion's scent.  Each person who comes near it smells something different, seemingly their favorite scents; I remember Hermione smelled freshly mown grass and new parchment and something else.

Immediately upon reading this, I, naturally, wondered what Amortentia would smell like to me, and in very short order was perturbed to find I had no earthly idea.

This is no doubt because I have a crap sense of smell, which doesn't normally bother me; in fact, it's been a real boon to me in recent years, being in possession of three small children and all the bodily fluids they derive so much joy from flinging around.  I generally don't mind cleaning up after sickness and potty training and all the other liquid parts of my glamorous life, most likely because I usually can't smell them.  I am bothered by strong perfume-type smells mostly because they induce an immediate pounding headache, but really all this means is I have to stay out of Bath and Body Works and any section of our church where large groups of college-age males are gathered.

So, fine:  I know what smells I don't like, but what about which smells I do?  This has bothered me, that I didn't have a favored scent, that I had no idea what I would smell if Amortentia was wafted under my nose.

But finally, finally, I smelled it.  The scent that sent me a-swooning.

ARE YOU READY FOR THIS?  Are you thinking all kinds of fancy things like jasmine and sandalwood and notes of vanilla and lavender?  Because if you are, then I daresay you don't know me at all.

Diced onion sizzling in bacon grease.

That's it.  I made a new potato soup recipe a few weeks ago, and I keep finding excuses to make it over and over again, because that second step of dicing a white onion, then cooking it up til it softens in the leftover bacon grease of all that beautiful bacon you just fried up?  It is heaven.  It is nirvana.  World peace could be had if they'd just cook up a bunch of onions in bacon grease at all those talks and summits and meetings, I'm convinced.

And so, of course, I'm curious:  If we weren't all relegated to the sad, sad world of muggles (aka CRUEL REALITY), and you were smelling Amortentia, what would it smell like to you?

To put it more simply (for those of you who hate whimsy and fun):  What is your favorite smell?  Do you have one?  Have you ever smelled onions cooking in bacon grease?  Is it not divine?